Wandering around the woods, it’s not unusual to stumble on a campsite. Beer cans, liquor bottles, and other litter indicate either a teenage party spot or some alcoholic’s hideaway. But lately I’ve been coming across campsites that tell a different story, like the one I saw yesterday.

It was surprisingly close to downtown Fitchburg, in some woods, not too far off a popular trail. I happened on it because I heard a Barred Owl calling out from somewhere nearby , and wanted to try to find it. I came up over a small rise, and there on a flat shelf of land was a small tent, and a few things stacked around it. I debated whether to go closer or not, not so much from a sense of danger – there was nothing threatening about the place – as from not wanting to intrude.

I didn’t hear or see any movement, so finally I went for a closer look. A trash bag hung down from a tree. A small campfire pit had been dug out and ringed with stones. Two stumps served for seats in front of the campfire. There were a few pots and pans, clean, piled nearby. A sleeping bag in the tent had been rolled up and tucked to one side. There was no loose trash or litter.

This wasn’t a party spot. Someone lived here. Someone who didn’t have anyplace else to go. Up to now, whenever anyone was identified as homeless they were also labeled as mentally ill, addicted, or otherwise dysfunctional.

This wasn’t the campsite of someone dysfunctional.

It was yet another sign of the times.

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